Salak Condet Monument built in 2022 at the initiation of the Condet community as a reminder that Condet was a place for high-quality salak production. Photo by Begies Imanda.

Exploring Condet in East Jakarta will allow you to see the roots of some important history. Condet today is, like other parts of Jakarta, experiencing the erosion of its Betawi identity, while being dense and chaotic, congested, and sadly also prone to flooding. Whereas in the 18th century, Condet was referred to by the Dutch, as Groeneveld meaning a green land, describing that the area was like a green tapestry on the skyline. Today the remaining community tries to bring back the identity of their village and maintain it with all their might amidst the constant pressures of change.  

People generally, even Jakarta residents, think of the National Monument (Monas), Ondel-Ondel, or Kota Tua Jakarta if they were asked what is the mascot, or perhaps symbol, of Jakarta. And they will get a little surprised or maybe  frown a little when they get the real fact that following Governor’s Decree Number 1796 of 1989 signed by Governor Wiyogo Atmodarminto the identity or mascot of Jakarta is the Elang Bondol (Haliastur Indus) and Salak Condet or snake fruit from Condet (Salacca Zalacca). 

Perhaps that official mascot is indeed not as popular as those three icons, although some parts of the city have statues of the Elang Bondol, the authoritative eagle of prey in the air clutching the Salak Condet. And it was even used as the logo of TransJakarta Bus Company in the early days. The mascot was appointed as the reflection of two endangered flora and fauna even though Elang Bondol is not an endemic Jakarta species but is one of 17 species of eagle in Indonesia and has a long lifespan of up to 70 years. At the same time, Salak Condet has a distinctive value to Jakartans since it can be cultivated or protected naturally. Salak, with its teardrop or fig-like shape covered in a shiny, brown scale-like pattern skin used to grow abundantly in Condet. 

Salak fruit from Condet as the mascot of Jakarta along with Elang Bondol. Photo by Begies Imanda.

Located in the Kramat Jati sub-district in East Jakarta, Condet is toponymically derived from the name of a tributary of the Ciliwung River, Ci Ondet. There are several historical versions appear regarding the origin of the name, one of which is from the travel record of Abraham van Riebeeck, when he was still the Director-General of the VOC in Batavia (before becoming the 18th Governor General of VOC), which mentions that on 24 September 1709, he and his entourage walked through the Ci Ondet tributary “Over mijn lant Paroeng Combale, Ratudjaja, Depok, Sringsing naar het hoodft van de spruijt Tsji Ondet” (De Haan 1911:320).

The Jakarta cultural observer, the late Alwi Shahab, through his book, Betawi: Queen of the East, wrote that Condet used to be private land. The area with cool and fresh air on the outskirts of Batavia with lush trees covering 816 morgen or around 52,530 hectares was the result of the sale of the Dutch colony in Batavia to Frederik Willem Freijer on 8 June 1753.

The land was seen as a preferred resting place for Dutch officials because it was located not far from the city centre, in addition to lush atmosphere. Rest houses or villas were built around the area which was known as Landhuis (rest house) Tandjong Oost or Tanjung Timur, which is now leaving behind memories that were almost lost. The famous Tandjong Oost now just remains an incomplete dull brick structure due to the fire that gutted the building. 

Picture of the atmosphere of Tandjong Oost in the past (left) and Tandjong Oost today remains an incomplete brick structure (right). Photo by Begies Imanda (right).

Quoted from Jakarta History, G.J. Nawi in his writing, From Ci Ondet, Groeneveld to Condet explains, in the 18th century Condet was called by the Dutch as Groeneveld meaning green land. The name arises from the area covered by trees as vast as a green rug on the skyline. Groeneveld stretched from Depok to Srengseng and Condet and became a large part of Meester Cornelis which is now known as Jatinegara, a satellite city supporting Batavia.

The fertile land of Condet, located on the banks of the Ciliwung river, attracted Willem Vincent Helvetius van Riemsdjik. Known as Daniel Cornelius Helvetius, he was the landlord and son of Governor-General Jeremies van Riemsdjik who bought Condet from Johannes Jacobus Craan in 1770. Craan was the third owner of Condet after buying it from Adrian Jubels in 1763 when Jubels had acquired it from Freijer. Thanks to Helvetius, Condet was developed into a leading agricultural and livestock area. In addition to producing rice, quality fruit crops such as salak, duku, durian, gandaria, jackfruit, and mango also grow in this area. 

In the era of the Governor Ali Sadikin, the 70’s, Condet was once made a cultural heritage area through governor decree in 1974. The establishment of this status had resulted for the Governor seeing traditional agricultural and plantation cultivation practices still continuing in  local community, which was embued with the distinctive culture of the Betawi people that was maintained and preserved. At that time, Condet was still inhabited by Betawi people comprising 90 per cent of the population. During its heyday in the 1970s the salak production averaged 285.7 tonnes per year, such a large harvest was obtained from 1,656,600 clumps of salak trees growing on a total area of 300 ha.

Moreover, on the banks of the Ciliwung River area, archaeological objects have been found, such as impact axes and various tools commonly used by ancient humans, which are thought to belong to residential communities living on the banks of the river and are thought to be the ancestors of the Betawi people.

The 3,7 hectares salak and duku plantation managed by the Jakarta government. Photo by Begies Imanda.

Over time massive developments occurred in the community, which were intertwined with the rapid development of Jakarta as the capital city, the cultural project initiated by the legendary Governor Ali Sadikin, who served from 1966 to 1977, did not end up as sweet as the famous Salak Condet. Many farms and plantations were sold because it was felt that selling land was much more profitable than just selling fruits and agricultural products. And changing governors meant changing policies, so the decree protecting the area wasn’t strong anymore. 

The continued influx of migrants from various regions who wanted to try their luck in the capital city in the 1970s and 1980s caused massive land clearance for housing. Then came  the emergence of toll road construction, increasingly making the Betawi cultural heritage project in the Condet area diminish and gradually dissolve.

“In 1962 when Gelora Bung Karno was built, people from the neighbourhood moved to the Tebet area, and the Kuningan area developed into Mega Kuningan, the people from Kuningan moved to Condet. So there are some old Condet people whose origins are from Kuningan. And the establishment of Condet as a Cultural Heritage was no longer strong, so Condet has become more open. For example, my grandmother sold her land, and the money was used to go on Hajj. And most Condet people end up like that. In addition, Condet is a connecting area for people who want to go to Depok and those who want to go to Jakarta. As a result, Condet now is crowded.” said Acmad Sofiyan, a Condet native who is also a history teacher and activist. 

For those who want to travel around Condet, you can start from its gate, right on the Salak Condet Monument, across from the shopping centre Pusat Grosir Cililitan. This monument was built in 2022 at the initiation of the Condet community as a reminder that Condet is a destination of cultural heritage and a fruit preserve, especially salak.  From here, you’ll be presented with a view of the streets’ sides that are flanked by perfume refill shops, food stalls serving a variety of Betawi menus, and Middle Eastern restaurants which are mostly owned by Arabian people. This is what makes Condet also now known as Arab Village.

Al Hawi, the oldest mosque in East Jakarta, built in 1926 by Habib Muhammad bin Ahmad Alhaddad. Photo by Begies Imanda.

“When did people of Hadramout or Hadrami descent enter Condet? So, the shaykhs of the prophet’s descendants were originally concentrated in Pekojan in West Jakarta, known as Arab Village. As their descendants grew, they moved to Tanah Abang, Kramat Kwitang, and they entered Condet in the 19th century. These Arabs have an inclusive nature, they come and gather with local Betawi people. The Condet community is very welcoming to these Arabs because they are considered descendants of the Prophet Muhammad and the Condet community is known as a religious community. Eventually, there was brotherhood and the Arabs flourished in Condet. Al Hawi Mosque is a sign of the history. The mosque built in 1926 by Habib Muhammad bin Ahmad Alhaddad.” Achmad Sofian explained again.

In 2021, the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy launched Condet as a Tourism Village area considering that many potential aspects could be developed, such as its environment, culture, culinary traditions, and religious tourism. The Condet area, which consists of Balekambang, Batu Ampar, and Kampung Tengah still has a great cultural heritage, and we can still see Betawi traditional houses called rumah kebaya and people who preserve Betawi cuisine. The government has also built Balai Budaya Condet, a cultural arts performance building that displays the new face of Condet where it will be the centre of Betawi performing arts, such as karawitan and traditional dances.

Condet also still holds on to its glory as a producer of salak. You can walk down Jalan Kayu Manis, in Balekambang, on the left and right of the road which is dominated by residential houses, you can find an area of 3.7 hectares which since 2007 has been used as a salak and duku cultivation site by the Jakarta government. This initiative is an effort to preserve Salak Condet by freeing up lands that were previously owned by residents. In this plantation, there are at least 3,000 salak trees that have been planted. In a year, this plantation can harvest twice in June and December. Compared to salak from other regions, Salak Condet has up to nine types of varieties, thick flesh, and a variety of flavours.

Sari Widiati

Sari Widiati

Sari has been an arts and culture enthusiast for many years. She has written extensively on the arts, travel, and social issues as Features Writer at NOW! Jakarta.